After fifteen minutes, the activists voluntarily left the hall, continuing their chanting as they leftPatrick Wernham

Cambridge’s divestment movement had a busy day on Thursday as they staged a protest at an Engineering careers event, shortly before the second town hall meeting was held on the issue.

Protesters from Zero Carbon Society Cambridge interrupted an ‘Engineering, Science & Technology Event’ hosted by the Careers Service in the University Centre (UC) on Thursday afternoon. Shortly after 2pm, roughly a dozen demonstrators entered the main hall of the UC, shouting and chanting.

The protesters, dressed largely in black and with black paint on their hands, proceeded walk towards the Shell and BP stalls, before lying down in front of them. They continued chanting for approximately ten minutes, as University security staff arrived at the scene.

Security looked bemused and did little to stop the protesters. Eventually, a proctor arrived. After fifteen minutes, the activists voluntarily left the hall, continuing their chanting as they left.

Speaking to Varsity after the protest, Cambridge Zero Carbon Society’s Campaigns Officer, Marcel Llavero Pasquina, said: “With this action, Zero Carbon highlighted once again the hypocrisy of Cambridge investments. The University is supposed to educate the next generations and yet it profits from climate destruction. The University pledges to invest ethically and yet it is revealed in the Paradise Papers that it has millions in offshore investments.

“The Council must take responsibility and the least it could do is to pull investments out of fossil fuels now.”

Thursday also marked the second ‘town hall’ meeting of the University Council’s divestment working group. At the meeting, which, like the first, was chaired by Dame Athene Donald at Lady Mitchell Hall, the focal point of debate was whether it was better to divest or engage with hydrocarbon companies. As phrased by climate scientist Eric Woolf, “Both financial and ethical arguments are at play.”

As with the first working group meeting, the event sought to clarify the uncertainty around what divestment would mean for Cambridge University, and how the University could use its influence and intellectual capital to take positive steps towards a zero-carbon future. Donald stated that she wished to “get a diverse range of opinions” and as a result, had invited speakers with a varying range of views.

David Chambers, a Finance student at the Judge Business School, emphasised his concern over the impact of climate change. However, he stated that, although divestment would be an effective solution, engaging with hydrocarbon companies as a shareholder or an investor might be a better way of encouraging more ethical practice. Chambers added that, even if Cambridge chose to divest from fossil fuels and confidence was lost in their stock, companies such as BP and Shell would become even more inaccessible to the public if they were to transform into private companies: “When investors engage on environmental or social issues, they do have an impact on those firms and how they behave.”

Many of the pro-divestment arguments sought to tackle this notion. Reverend Paul Dominiak of Jesus College argued that Cambridge had largely shaped the world for the better, with the exception of its decision to invest in industries which contributed to climate change. He stated, “If it’s wrong to wreck the planet, it’s wrong to profit from that wreckage.” He also noted that shareholder engagement had been tried and tested for thirty years, to no considerable benefit. Sam Parkin, a representative of student interfaith group Just Love, supported this argument, raising the point that even global financial institutions, such as the IMF, have warned of the risks of investing in the ‘carbon bubble’.

The argument that major energy companies are also looking for ethical and sustainable options was countered by several speakers at the event. Emma Bryan, from Sidney Sussex College, argued that Cambridge’s refusal to divest “is damaging the University’s reputation,” because of the links between some companies, like BP and Shell, and alleged human rights violations. She stated that Shell aims to invest only 3% of its overall budget into low carbon projects, while some companies actively sponsor climate change denial. She also noted that major energy companies only fund 0.4% of Cambridge University research projects.

CUSU President Daisy Eyre, who spoke on behalf of the students at the University, recalled the 2000 petition signatures by Cambridge students in 2015 in favour of divestment, and conveyed a warning about the potential results of continued investment in fossil fuels: ‘Climate change is not a joke, or an exaggeration.’ Her remarks followed an impassioned case for divestment put forward by Jeremy Caddick of Emmanuel College, who argued that the roots of the University’s reluctance to divest lay in “business as usual instincts.’ Caddick described the current attempts to tackle the problem as ’pathetically inadequate,” but conceded that it was impossible to tell what the future would hold. “Either we will have managed to find a way to live sustainably,” he said, “or bequeathed [to future generations] a climate collapse.”

As proceedings at Lady Mitchell Hall drew to a close, it was clear that the majority of the audience were in favour of divestment. During a round of speeches from the floor, Jenny Langley stated: “We are in a privileged position here. We could make a huge difference to the world. We are capable of standing up and being a shining example.”

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